Government of India has indicated that it found nothing illegal in channels from other DTH platforms being available for viewing by audiences of Prasar Bharati’s DD Free Dish service.
There have been allegations by a section of the broadcasting industry that the availability of channels from other DTH platforms to users of DD Free Dish amounted to a ‘scam’.
However, said Information & Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar, the situation is purely the result of certain technical circumstances. He admitted that Prasar Bharati had complained to the ministry about this.
“[A] reference was received from Prasar Bharati regarding reception of some channels of the private broadcasters on the Set Top Boxes of DD Free Dish which were not part of channels downlinkable from DD Free Dish through the auction process,” Javadekar said on Monday.
At 35-40 million, DD Free Dish accounts for about one third of the total DTH users in India.
However, unlike other DTH platforms, Free Dish collects its revenue from the channel broadcasters, and not from the users.
Therefore, anyone is free to buy a suitable satellite receiver from the market, install it and watch the 80 or so channels without paying anything to Prasar Bharati.
The service is broadcast from ISRO’s GSAT 15 satellite situated above the 93.5 degree east meridian.
However, the same satellite is also being used by two other DTH provider — Dish TV and Sun Direct.
As a result, a DD Free Dish subscriber will also get the signals for all the channels from the other two services.
However, since Dish TV and Sun Direct encrypt their signals, the satellite receiver boxes used by Free Dish users are not able to show the programs as they lack the decryption algorithm.
In between, due to pressure from some of the channel broadcasters, the signals of around 32 such channels on one of these private DTH platforms were changed from encrypted to non-encrypted.
Because of this, these channels became visible to everyone, including those who had purchased their satellite boxes from the open market with the intention of watching only DD Free Dish channels.
In other words, at least one of the two pay DTH providers — Dish TV and Sun Direct — was giving some of its channels without any encryption so that anyone could watch these channels by using any MPEG4 satellite receiver.
This gave an immediate and tremendous boost the the viewership of these channels.
However, Prasar Bharati was unhappy, as it felt that the private DTH operator was sabotaging its user base and delivering its channels to DD Free Dish users without taking its permission or authorization.
Rival broadcasters and DTH players too alleged that under India’s broadcasting rules, all distribution providers must provide their channels in an ‘addressable’ format.
In other words, the cable/DTH provider must put in place infrastructure that allows it to turn on and turn off signals to each individual user. They argued that it is not possible to make channels addressable without also encrypting them, and therefore, it was alleged that encryption is a mandatory requirement under license conditions.
Due to such opposition, these channels were subsequently converted back to an encrypted format.
However, the I&B ministry on Monday said it studied the matter and came to the conclusion that encryption is a “non-mandatory requirement” on the part of the DTH provider when a non-pay channel is being uploaded to a satellite for broadcast.
“This matter [of these channels being available to DD Free Dish users] has been examined and it was observed that the situation has arisen due to co-location of the signals and non-mandatory requirement for encryption of signals of Free-To-Air TV channels while being uplinked to a teleport,” Javadekar said.